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New Towns

Volume 785: debated on Tuesday 14 November 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what work they have undertaken to plan for another generation of New Towns.

My Lords, our housing White Paper makes it clear that we need to make the most of the potential for new settlements. We recognise that well-planned, well-designed new communities have an important part to play in meeting long-term housing needs. We are supporting the development of 10 new garden towns and cities and 14 new garden villages. We have legislated to enable the creation of locally led new town development corporations to provide a powerful delivery option.

Is my noble friend aware that I had the privilege of representing Northampton for 23 years, one of six third-generation new towns? All six doubled their populations and were highly successful. Given the scale of the challenge on the housing front, has the time not come to find some other new towns, particularly around the fringes of London, for example in Bedford, Ashford and Guildford? Is not one of the principal reasons why development corporations are the most successful way of building a very large community that they are much quicker at doing the work, and above all better at integrating with local communities in a way that no other bodies have so far succeeded in doing?

My Lords, my noble friend is certainly well known for his support of new towns and new villages, and I am well aware of his great work in Northampton in supporting the expansion of the town when that was not always popular. He deserves much credit for doing so. As I say, we are progressing with 10 cities or towns and 14 villages. The aim is ultimately that there will be housing for 220,000 people in those communities. My noble friend is absolutely right about the vehicle of the new town development corporation, which is the option being pursued in, for example, Ebbsfleet.

My Lords, I should first draw attention to my interests in this area as set out in the register. I welcome the fact that on a cross-party basis, but particularly with Ministers, I have been able to work to bring forward changes to the New Towns Act to allow developments to be locally led. Can the Minister give the House any sense of when the regulations may come forward to allow that? The Government have promised it, so I hope that they can be brought forward at an early stage. Does he agree that it is critical, where either new town corporations or other delivery mechanisms are used, that we ensure that new settlements are delivered at the highest quality with a full range of services for a 21st-century village, not merely a housing estate?

My Lords, I also acknowledge the great work of the noble Lord in relation to garden towns and cities. I know that he was very supportive when we took forward powers in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, as it then was, and I thank him for that. I agree about the importance of the regulations, which we will be bringing forward. As I say, the development corporation mechanism is certainly appropriate for some of the larger towns, as it is for Ebbsfleet, and we anticipate that others may come forward and use the mechanism. We are seeing some very successful developments in, for example, Bicester, north Essex and so on. They may want to use the mechanism; that is to be discussed and decided.

My Lords, I refer the House to my local government interests as set out in the register. Can the noble Lord tell the House what work has been done by the department to ensure that these developments are self-sustaining with schools, health facilities, transport links and other infrastructure, including broadband? In the past we have not always got this right. For example, people waited many years for a station to arrive in Basildon.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right. The wave of new towns under the last Government—the ecotowns—was very well intentioned but we have learned from aspects of the programme. When developing new towns and villages, the indicators show that we need to pursue infrastructure and design. Often the money that has been advanced to these communities is tied in with doing that work, and reports are often presented on an annual basis to show that that is happening.

As I read the statistics, the Department for Transport’s capital budget has not kept pace with these developments. Can he assure the House that those capital budgets will be matched by Department for Transport capital budgets?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right about the importance of infrastructure. For example, £261 million of infrastructure spending has gone to Ebbsfleet for development; £19 million, closely related to transport, has gone to Bicester. Obviously, maintaining those capital budgets is a key consideration in discussions with other departments.

My Lords, plans for new towns must include a wide range of different kinds of housing to enable all people to access decent, affordable homes. Developers often wish to build large, four or five-bedroom houses—unsurprisingly, as they make the most profit—but families, couples and single-person households need very different kinds of properties. How are Her Majesty’s Government planning to ensure that a wide range of housing sizes and tenures will be provided in these new developments?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate brings in the important element of the necessary range of tenure and types of property. In garden town and village status applications, various things are looked at: the value-added aspect, need, particular aspects of community, green spaces, and design. All those things are weighed when awarding the status. I think 51 applications were made for garden villages; 14 were awarded. Those are the criteria we look at.

As new towns, by definition, will not be built on brownfield sites, I urge the Minister, with the government machine, to constantly put the case for the building needed, because only 12% of the land of England is built on. We are not short of land; it will have to be what people call the green belt. I do not think that we as a Government did enough—nor have the current Government—to propagate the fact that there is more than enough land for the building needed.

The noble Lord has a point, though of course it is not always in the right places. Very often, we have great areas of green land where it would not be appropriate to put a new town. He is right about the pressures that exist and the fact that we often overstate the amount of built-up land, even in the south of England. That said, we are using brownfield sites, for example in Ebbsfleet.

How long will it take to complete the Government’s very welcome but ambitious programme for new towns and villages?

My noble friend raises an interesting point. As I have indicated, the target, or perhaps aspiration, is 220,000; I think that by the time that aspiration is reached, not many of us in the Chamber will still be here.